Abortion legislation planned for end of July

A protest outside the Dail calling for abortion legislation following the death of Savita Halappanavar last November.Photograph: Alan Betson

A protest outside the Dail calling for abortion legislation following the death of Savita Halappanavar last November.Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Mar 9, 2013, 00:00

The Government intends to enact its abortion legislation by the end of July, according to information it has supplied to the Council of Europe.

In an update to the Strasbourg-based body, the Government said it planned to publish the Bill by April and enact the legislation by the end of July.

The Council of Europe monitors the implementation of judgments made by the European Court of Human Rights. Its Committee of Ministers meets about four times a year to consider any outstanding cases.

Among the cases considered by the committee this week was the European Court of Human Rights’ 2010 “ABC” judgment on Ireland. Based on cases taken by three Irish women challenging Ireland’s abortion laws, the court ruled in December 2010 that Ireland was under a legal obligation to put in place legislation or regulation in accordance with the Supreme Court’s X case judgment.

Despite the fact abortion has been legal in circumstances where there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, successive governments have failed to enact legislation to give full effect to the ruling.

Timetable welcomed

In its update on the case, due to be published on Monday, the Council of Europe said the committee “noted with satisfaction” that the Irish authorities have decided to implement the judgment by way of legislation and regulations.

It also welcomes the indicative timetable presented by the Government.

However, the committee reiterated its concern regarding the situation of women who believe their life may be at risk due to their pregnancy, as had been the case with Ms “C” in the 2010 judgment.

Ms C became unintentionally pregnant while being treated for cancer, but was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term. She travelled to England for an abortion. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland had been in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights regarding her case.

‘Necessary measures’

In its update, the Council of Europe also reiterated the need for the Irish authorities to “take all necessary measures” regarding women who are of the opinion that their life may be at risk during pregnancy, pending full implementation of the judgment.

In this regard, the council welcomed the Government’s intention to shortly roll out the Irish Maternal Early-Warning System to standardise the management of acutely ill pregnant women.

The Health Service Executive announced a plan to roll out the service as early as this month as a response to the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in Galway University Hospital last October.

The early-warning system is designed for early detection of a range of life-threatening conditions, including sepsis, among women during and before childbirth.

While a general early-warning score system for hospital patients nationally is already in place in 80 per cent of acute hospitals, including Galway University Hospital, it was not in place in the hospital’s maternity unit, as a different system is required for pregnant patients.

While countries are obliged to abide by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe cannot implement sanctions on countries.